Greater body fat is a risk factor for reduced cognitive function, such as processing speed, in adults, according to a new study.
Even when the researchers took cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or vascular brain injury into account, the association between body fat and lower cognitive scores remained. This suggests other not yet confirmed pathways that linked excess body fat to reduced cognitive function.
The study, conducted by researchers from McMaster University and published in JAMA Network Open, a medical journal, included 9,166 participants who were examined by bioelectrical impedance analysis to assess their total body fat.
6,733 of the participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure abdominal fat packed around the organs known as visceral fat, and the MRI also assessed vascular brain injury, areas in the brain affected by reduced blood flow to the brain.
“Our results suggest that strategies to prevent or reduce having too much body fat may preserve cognitive function,” said lead author Ms. Sonia Anand, a professor of medicine of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and a vascular medicine specialist at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS).
Co-author Mr. Eric Smith, a neurologist, scientist and associate professor of clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary, said that “preserving cognitive function is one of the best ways to prevent dementia in old age. This study suggests that one of the ways that good nutrition and physical activity prevent dementia maybe by maintaining healthy weight and body fat percentage.”
The participants were in the age range of 30 to 75 with an average age of about 58. Over 56 percent were women, who lived in either Canada or Poland. The majority were of White European origin, with about 16 percent other ethnic backgrounds. Individuals with known cardiovascular disease were excluded.